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Finalists for Oklahoma Leopold Conservation Award Selected

OKLAHOMA CITY – Three finalists have been selected for the prestigious 2018 Oklahoma Leopold Conservation Award®.

Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the award recognizes farmers, ranchers and foresters who inspire others with their dedication to land, water and wildlife habitat management on private, working land.

In Oklahoma the $10,000 award is presented annually by Sand County Foundation, Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association, Noble Research Institute, the Oklahoma Farming and Ranching Foundation, and ITC Holdings Corp.

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The finalists are:

Chuck and Ruth Coffey Family of Springer in Carter County: The Coffeys are fifth generation ranchers, each with a degree in rangeland ecology. They rotationally graze 800 to 1,000 beef cows, depending on forage availability and market conditions. They host tours promoting grazing management and the importance of prescribed fires to promote biodiversity. Over the past decade 20 solar wells were installed to supply the ranch’s water needs. They own and operate another 20,000 acres in Murray County.

Russ and Jani Jackson of Mountain View in Kiowa County: The Jacksons are third generation ranchers in southwest Oklahoma, where they grow cotton, wheat, corn, milo, soybeans, canola and sesame, in addition to beef cattle. A decade ago they transitioned to no-till farming on their highly erodible land, developed a conservation plan, diversified their crop rotations, grew cover crops to increase soil organic matter, and established wildlife habitat food plots. Their average yields for their crops surpass county averages.

William Payne of Saint Louis in Pottawatomie County: William and Karen Payne’s bought the 920-acre Destiny Ranch in 2006. Its landscape was overgrazed and prone to erosion, with no wildlife or wildflowers. Working with Noble Research Institute and NRCS to build soil health and prevent erosion, while grazing beef cattle. Today their pastures and wildlife are flourishing. They have built a viable cattle enterprise, selling their own labelled beef, and sell quality breeding heifers to farms and ranches.

This year’s recipient will be revealed on February 25 at the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts’ Legislative Evening in Oklahoma City.

The inaugural recipient, announced earlier this year, was Jimmy and Ginger Emmons of Leedey in Dewey County.   

The Leopold Conservation Award in Oklahoma is made possible thanks to the generous contributions from Oklahoma Cattlemen’s AssociationNoble Research Institute, the Oklahoma Farming and Ranching FoundationITC Holdings Corp., Oklahoma State University, Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Sand County Foundation presents the Leopold Conservation Award to private landowners in 14 states for extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation.

For more information on the award, visit

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LEOPOLD CONSERVATION AWARD PROGRAM is a competitive award that recognizes landowner achievement in voluntary conservation. Sand County Foundation presents the award in California, Colorado, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

SAND COUNTY FOUNDATION is a non-profit conservation organization dedicated to working with private landowners across North America to advance ethical and scientifically sound land management practices that benefit the environment.

NOBLE RESEARCH INSTITUTE LLC is an independent nonprofit agricultural research organization dedicated to delivering solutions to great agricultural challenges. Headquartered in Ardmore, Oklahoma, the Noble Research Institute conducts fundamental, translational and applied research; offers no-cost consultation and education to farmers, ranchers and land managers; operates seven research and demonstration farms; and educates students of all ages about science and agriculture. The Noble Research Institute was founded by Lloyd Noble, an Oklahoma oilman and philanthropist, in 1945 as The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation to advance agriculture and land stewardship.

OKLAHOMA CATTLEMEN'S ASSOCIATION represents the interests of Oklahoma's cattlemen at the Oklahoma Legislature. The OCA has continued an aggressive course of action supporting proactive legislation and challenging anti-industry legislation and regulations. The OCA exists to support and defend the state and nation's beef cattle industry. 

OKLAHOMA FARMING AND RANCHING FOUNDATION is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit committed to educating citizens of all ages on the importance of production agriculture and its impact on everyday life. From promoting and assisting beginning farmers and ranchers to educating youth interested in agricultural pursuits, the foundation creates agricultural awareness.   

ITC HOLDINGS CORP. is the largest independent electric transmission company in the United States. Based in Novi, Michigan, ITC invests in the electric transmission grid to improve reliability, expand access to markets, allow new generating resources to interconnect to its transmission systems and lower the overall cost of delivered energy. Through its regulated operating subsidiaries ITCTransmission, Michigan Electric Transmission Company, ITC Midwest and ITC Great Plains, ITC owns and operates high-voltage transmission facilities in Michigan, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma, serving a combined peak load exceeding 26,000 megawatts along approximately 15,800 circuit miles of transmission line with 660 employees and nearly 1,000 contractors across its seven-state footprint. ITC’s grid development focus includes growth through regulated infrastructure investment as well as domestic and international expansion through merchant and other commercial development opportunities. ITC Holdings Corp. common shares are owned 80.1% by Fortis Inc. and 19.9% by GIC Private Limited.